Playing with the bit.

Juliaa

Julia
Aug 20, 2017
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I loan a pony that has a tendency to play with the bit. He can also bring his head up and ride with a short neck, the connection with the reins is always on and off. I am planning to buy a bitless bridle to play around In and see how he goes, but it’ll only temporarily get rid of the issue, and it’ll come back if I put the bit in, I’ll be going College, so I can’t always ride bitless there.

It’s also hard to get him forward, he’ll get there eventually, but I have a hard time judging if this is the best he can do, how do I make a horse engage, without having to nag?
 

joosie

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Is this the pony in his 20s that you mentioned on another thread? If so I'd suggest it is most likely to be an issue with his teeth and/or you are asking him to work in a way that he can not physically achieve.
 

Juliaa

Julia
Aug 20, 2017
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Is this the pony in his 20s that you mentioned on another thread? If so I'd suggest it is most likely to be an issue with his teeth and/or you are asking him to work in a way that he can not physically achieve.

Yes that's him, hes had his teeth done a month ago, there were no known ulcers or any teeth that were causing pain. And I've only been doing 30 mins or less off walk/trot/canter and the last 10 minutes is practicing to stretch long and low to relax, he'll play with the bit as I'm tacking him up. Most say it's an anxiety issue or just a habit he's picked up as the bit moves a lot in general. He's a 20 yr old pony who hasn't done any hard work in ages I wouldn't expect him to do something physically unachievable.
 

joosie

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Well the bit shouldn't be "moving a lot" so I suspect that is a big part of the problem! There's no way you can expect a horse to maintain a consistent, quiet contact if the bit is making them uncomfortable. Why is it moving? Is it too big? Fit too low?
How experienced are you? Are you able to keep your hands still while you're riding or do you think you are balancing on your hands or pulling his mouth a little bit?
On your other thread it sounded like you really had to "bully" him into going forwards which to me suggests he is unhappy or uncomfortable in some way. I can see you're really keen to do all sorts of fun things with this pony but I do think you have to bear in mind that he is no spring chicken and may find things physically harder than you realise. If he hasn't been in proper work for ages then you will need to be really patient and build him up slowly.
 

Juliaa

Julia
Aug 20, 2017
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Well the bit shouldn't be "moving a lot" so I suspect that is a big part of the problem! There's no way you can expect a horse to maintain a consistent, quiet contact if the bit is making them uncomfortable. Why is it moving? Is it too big? Fit too low?
How experienced are you? Are you able to keep your hands still while you're riding or do you think you are balancing on your hands or pulling his mouth a little bit?
On your other thread it sounded like you really had to "bully" him into going forwards which to me suggests he is unhappy or uncomfortable in some way. I can see you're really keen to do all sorts of fun things with this pony but I do think you have to bear in mind that he is no spring chicken and may find things physically harder than you realise. If he hasn't been in proper work for ages then you will need to be really patient and build him up slowly.

That’s how the owner put it, She’s mentioned the fact she’s tried different bits, and this bit was the quietest. He goes quite nicely when he’s focused, but he just hates riding in the school. I’ve got very quiet hands, I’m usually balanced and not pulling on his mouth. Take away the reins and I can still ride to the same quality, when riding on a free rein I’ll give some of it to him so that I reassure myself I ain’t “pulling”or “yanking” that would cause this.

It wasn’t much “bullying” to it. Be put in his shoes and you’ll understand, the yard isn’t that big, it’s pretty small,the yard was a small riding school for disabled riders ages ago. As a pony having novice riders on and off in the same school, doing nothing else would make you reluctant to have anyone on your back. However take him out hacking or cross country he could gallop for miles (not literally). Despite being 20 years old he isn’t such an old grump.

When I sat on him, I was still a beginner, the last thing he wanted. So I worked hard on my other share horse to be able to correct myself before getting on him. When I did I compromised with him and owner said it was the first time in a long while she’s seen him work so nicely and willing to accept a rider. I didn’t bully him into it. He loves working, this boy is wasted doing nothing and he’d do anything to get back competing, of course doesn’t mean I’ll do that. Im not trying to make him canter in circles, I’ll do light work and take it at his pace.

I’ll still talk to the owner to see if finding a more suitable bit would be an option to consider, was thinking and eggbut happy mouth.
 

Juliaa

Julia
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Has he seen a physio? Saddle fitter?
He hasn’t seen a physio as he generally works very well, only plays with the bit wether he stands or does work, if there were any other issues such as lameness or sensitivity when pressure is put on the physio would've been called out. He’ll happily do work with me compared to before. His current saddle fits him really well, no pinching that would cause him to buck and any other vices. He’s got no health issues.

He has been playing with the bit long before, however owner said she’d always warm him up in the warm up arena so that she could get him focused and he’d stop. But this is my first encounter with a horse that plays with a bit so wanted to get more understanding of it. x

Could boredom influence the playing on the bit by any chance? He likes to do fun things, and being a pony that’s done
 

joosie

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I loan a pony that has a tendency to play with the bit. He can also bring his head up and ride with a short neck, the connection with the reins is always on and off.

See that to me is something I'd want someone to assess him for - could be discomfort in his poll, neck, back, etc and considering his age and being out of proper work for a long time, I wouldn't want to just assume that he was ok. Certainly some horses do play with the bit out of boredom. It may well be a habit he has always had. But as he is also going along with his head up and inverting his neck, personally I would get an MOT done to rule out a physical issue.

I thought you'd said something in your other thread about him "bolting" and bucking, so I went back to check, and see you have edited it, so I'm not exactly sure what you said now. But if you are taking him to college with you hopefully you will have some more experienced people to help you :)
 
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Juliaa

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See that to me is something I'd want someone to assess him for - could be discomfort in his poll, neck, back, etc and considering his age and being out of proper work for a long time, I wouldn't want to just assume that he was ok. Certainly some horses do play with the bit out of boredom. It may well be a habit he has always had. But as he is also going along with his head up and inverting his neck, personally I would get an MOT done to rule out a physical issue.

I thought you'd said something in your other thread about him "bolting" and bucking, so I went back to check, and see you have edited it, so I'm not exactly sure what you said now. But if you are taking him to college with you hopefully you will have some more experienced people to help you :)

A lot of horses can ride with a hollow back and a short neck, especially as you say since he’s been out of work, so as I’m getting him back to work, I spend more time on him stretching his neck and being able to bring his feet underneath. They get vet checked regularly.

I removed the bolting and bucking as I realised it might get misinterpreted as something he does all the time. That day he was stabled due to horrible weather, someone in front of me striked onto canter, he got excited and started zooming round the school which I put as “bolting”, threw in a couple of bucks, similar behaviour to a horse when free lunging which I should’ve done. The owner herself knows this pony inside out, if she believed there was something wrong with him she would’ve stopped me from riding and called the physio out.
 

Juliaa

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I will suggest an MOT though, as I do want to make sure pains be ruled out. However my gust instinct says it’s not anything health related as the bit playing has been there since before I started riding, and he’s had plenty of vets out since then.
What I might also see is if I can get someone to do like a back message to relieve tensions through the spine and relax muscles. It might not be related to the playing with the bit but your comment has made me think more about tension and what should be done when bringing a horse back to work.

Many thanks!
 

Jessey

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I don't disagree with anything @joosie suggested, its all valid but to consider it from another perspective (as we can't see the horse to look for other 'tells') I think geldings tend to be more 'mouthy' than mares, and some just get the habit of playing with things when their brain is not otherwise engaged, if he spent time as an RDA pony and going forward was not encouraged and he was bored then this might be a good example of why he might have taken to amusing himself, which has now become a bit of a security blanket reaction.

Bringing any horse back into work after a prolonged rest I would always start with 6 weeks of walk only work, preferably on straight lines out hacking to get those back muscles working and legs strengthened. Then gradually introduce trot for short spurts, focusing on quality not quantity, canter would probably come at 12 weeks plus (when they can comfortably manage 50/50 walk trot) for an older horse that's had a long time out of work. I mention this as it often surprises people how long it can take (it is probably considered very old fashioned now to do this much walking etc. but there is science behind it), cardio fitness can be improved in 6-8 weeks, but the fitness of tendons and ligaments takes 4-6 months in a young horse so a steady progressive plan is important to prevent injury, especially in an older horse. It may be he's just not strong enough yet to work softly with his head/neck relaxed :)
 

carthorse

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I'm also inclined to agree with Joosie & if he was mine I'd start with getting him checked over & his tack checked. To me his reaction to the bit, particularly combined with a short tight neck & unwillingness to go forwards speaks of tension & until you sort that nothing is going to get better. If he's tense then I'd be surprised if there isn't a physical problem, not least because he's fighting his own muscles & creating one. So first stop is to get that sorted. I'd then do as Jessey says & start a walk programme. Walk him out under saddle for at least a month, ideally longer, for 5 days a week in a brisk active walk on a long rein - you want to feel him stepping through from behind & by the end he should be swinging along lifting his back & really reaching into the rein. When you move into the school start with that outline & activity, don't bring him up into a short "proper" frame until he can manage it with the same relaxation & activity. And when you bring in trot you still want that lift & length. You'll almost certainly find that with this relaxation the playing around with the bit will stop because it sounds like a symptom of of overall tension. I would suspect that as an RDA pony he's probably never learned to work correctly & now he's older he's struggling - you can't alter what's happened but you can teach him better now as long as you remember his age will set limits.

As an aside are you sure that taking this horse to college is really in his interests? It sounds like he'll be used as a college horse for at least some of the time & that may be asking too much of him.

Edited to add, not sure where I got the RDA bit from so please ignore that.
 
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Mary Poppins

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Ok, everyone is shortly going to get very sick of me saying this as it is my new answer for everything, but I think all horses should see a GOOD physio at least every 6 months. Surely if the horse has his head in the air, is playing with his bit and doing the occasional bolt and buck, you would want to rule out pain first? Why wouldn't you get this checked out as the very first thing you do? I have learnt the hard way with my horse, he is a kind soul and didn't do anything wrong, but he had a sore back and I didn't realise how bad it was. If the horse is showing obvious signs of discomfort (and your horse is) it needs to be sorted. I emphasis the word 'GOOD'. Someone with proper qualifications, who is very busy and charges a decent fee is a good place to start.

The more I think about it, the average horse owner does not tend to get physio's out on a regular basis. This is probably due to the fact that they are expensive and they find problems that are expensive to fix. But don't we owe it to our horses for them to be as comfortable as possible? These wonderful animals put up with so much from us humans, they deserve the very best of care. Who are we to get on and ride them, ask them to do all sort of things without checking that they can physically do the work required? No horse of mine will go more than 3 months between physio appointments again.
 

Kite_Rider

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There are a few things that come to mind here, firstly he's getting on a bit and he's not been ridden in ages, also you say he's fine out hacking and is only being tense in the school, I'm only speaking from my own experience here, but if he's tense in the school I'm guessing he's trying really hard to tell you he is finding 'work' uncomfortable in there, possibly because he's getting older and being out of work for so long he's not got enough muscle to 'work' correctly, working in a school is quite hard for most horses, a bit like going to the gym and having a really good workout I would imagine, factor in his age and his lack of work and it's no wonder he's finding it tough.
I would absolutely be getting a good physio out to check him over and a good saddle fitter to check him, if you get the OK from both then I would go right back to walk and do as others here have suggested and take it slow and steady with him to build him up properly, of course he could be a bit arthritic too and just finds school work too uncomfortable. As for playing with the bit I've no idea but it sounds to me that he's either made a habit out of it or he really isn't comfortable with it.
 

orbvalley

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i personally wouldn't be trying to bring a 20 year old back into work given the standard you are/will be asking for. I would liken it to asking an OAP to run a marathon for the first time. I'm not trying to criticise you for the sake of criticism in itself, just voicing an opinion. If you do choose to continue on the road your on with him you have plenty of suggestions above as to how to try to bring him back into work very slowly and sensitively to his age and current ability.
 

Juliaa

Julia
Aug 20, 2017
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I don't disagree with anything @joosie suggested, its all valid but to consider it from another perspective (as we can't see the horse to look for other 'tells') I think geldings tend to be more 'mouthy' than mares, and some just get the habit of playing with things when their brain is not otherwise engaged, if he spent time as an RDA pony and going forward was not encouraged and he was bored then this might be a good example of why he might have taken to amusing himself, which has now become a bit of a security blanket reaction.

Bringing any horse back into work after a prolonged rest I would always start with 6 weeks of walk only work, preferably on straight lines out hacking to get those back muscles working and legs strengthened. Then gradually introduce trot for short spurts, focusing on quality not quantity, canter would probably come at 12 weeks plus (when they can comfortably manage 50/50 walk trot) for an older horse that's had a long time out of work. I mention this as it often surprises people how long it can take (it is probably considered very old fashioned now to do this much walking etc. but there is science behind it), cardio fitness can be improved in 6-8 weeks, but the fitness of tendons and ligaments takes 4-6 months in a young horse so a steady progressive plan is important to prevent injury, especially in an older horse. It may be he's just not strong enough yet to work softly with his head/neck relaxed :)

Okay many thanks! We did start out on a lunge, but maybe I should’ve waited with the transitions. The owner claims he always been like this after being and RDA pony, she tends to say he’s got a ‘rubbery’ neck. We did rule out any pain, she does saddle fitting herself due to being in college and taking BHS exams. Vet was out a month ago as an annual checking, when he was still playing with the bit. He usually rides with a short neck in the beginning but then relaxes after some time.
Many thanks! I’m sorry it’s hard to see when you can’t see the pony himself x
 

Juliaa

Julia
Aug 20, 2017
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i personally wouldn't be trying to bring a 20 year old back into work given the standard you are/will be asking for. I would liken it to asking an OAP to run a marathon for the first time. I'm not trying to criticise you for the sake of criticism in itself, just voicing an opinion. If you do choose to continue on the road your on with him you have plenty of suggestions above as to how to try to bring him back into work very slowly and sensitively to his age and current ability.

I’ve discussed it with his vet, I mean hopefully I wasn’t given false information, but I was also worried about his age, and I do give him glucosamine for his bones to keep them supple, but vet explained that he’s still in a perfect healthy condition and a sturdy pony. There’s still time till we go to college so I will slowly bring him back into work, but to leave him there to just do walk trot canter would just waste him and he hates it. He lives for going out and doing small XC jumps, so I want to provide that for him.
 

Juliaa

Julia
Aug 20, 2017
60
10
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London
Ok, everyone is shortly going to get very sick of me saying this as it is my new answer for everything, but I think all horses should see a GOOD physio at least every 6 months. Surely if the horse has his head in the air, is playing with his bit and doing the occasional bolt and buck, you would want to rule out pain first? Why wouldn't you get this checked out as the very first thing you do? I have learnt the hard way with my horse, he is a kind soul and didn't do anything wrong, but he had a sore back and I didn't realise how bad it was. If the horse is showing obvious signs of discomfort (and your horse is) it needs to be sorted. I emphasis the word 'GOOD'. Someone with proper qualifications, who is very busy and charges a decent fee is a good place to start.

The more I think about it, the average horse owner does not tend to get physio's out on a regular basis. This is probably due to the fact that they are expensive and they find problems that are expensive to fix. But don't we owe it to our horses for them to be as comfortable as possible? These wonderful animals put up with so much from us humans, they deserve the very best of care. Who are we to get on and ride them, ask them to do all sort of things without checking that they can physically do the work required? No horse of mine will go more than 3 months between physio appointments again.

I’ll try get the physio out next week hopefully, and see how that goes x
 

Juliaa

Julia
Aug 20, 2017
60
10
8
London
I'm also inclined to agree with Joosie & if he was mine I'd start with getting him checked over & his tack checked. To me his reaction to the bit, particularly combined with a short tight neck & unwillingness to go forwards speaks of tension & until you sort that nothing is going to get better. If he's tense then I'd be surprised if there isn't a physical problem, not least because he's fighting his own muscles & creating one. So first stop is to get that sorted. I'd then do as Jessey says & start a walk programme. Walk him out under saddle for at least a month, ideally longer, for 5 days a week in a brisk active walk on a long rein - you want to feel him stepping through from behind & by the end he should be swinging along lifting his back & really reaching into the rein. When you move into the school start with that outline & activity, don't bring him up into a short "proper" frame until he can manage it with the same relaxation & activity. And when you bring in trot you still want that lift & length. You'll almost certainly find that with this relaxation the playing around with the bit will stop because it sounds like a symptom of of overall tension. I would suspect that as an RDA pony he's probably never learned to work correctly & now he's older he's struggling - you can't alter what's happened but you can teach him better now as long as you remember his age will set limits.

As an aside are you sure that taking this horse to college is really in his interests? It sounds like he'll be used as a college horse for at least some of the time & that may be asking too much of him.

Edited to add, not sure where I got the RDA bit from so please ignore that.

I’ll be getting a physio out for him next week x. At college unless I put them on loan they won’t be used for other students. Hes still got years ahead of him, and the vet claims he’s in good condition and still a sturdy pony for a 20 yr old. Taking him to college wasn’t all about forcing him over 3ft jumps and working him to the bone, I wanted him to enjoy his time there, he’s got a massive grazing field (he currently lives in a small paddock) and cross country which he loves when the owner took him out. He’s done a lot in his life so being an RDA pony was the last thing he did which brought bad habits, maybe he was yanked or kicked endlessly, not too sure, but he did plenty of schooling, jumping an XC, so I know he’s well trained, (of course I’m not going to start doing all that with him at once).
 
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